A debate was held on the Rafale deal in Parliament, where the Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley represented the Government and Congress President Mr Rahul Gandhi led the opposition. As expected, the debate proved inconclusive, with both sides hardening their positions.
On the first day of the new year, Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley had challenged the Congress for a debate in Parliament over the latter’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on the Rafale deal. Senior party leader and also the Leader of the Opposition Mr Mallikarjun Kharge accepted the challenge and the debate was scheduled for today.
The day of the much awaited debate started on a tangent, with proceedings being adjourned till noon due to protests by the AIADMK (against construction of a dam on the Cauvery river) and the TDP (over a demand for financial assistance for Amravati). Finally, Mr Kharge raised the issue and Congress President Mr Rahul Gandhi began the debate on Rafale at around 2:00 pm.
Rahul criticised the PM severely for not being there in Parliament during the debate, stating that the Prime Minister can give a “fixed interview” for 95 minutes, but “doesn’t have the guts to come to parliament and face questions on Rafale”.
In an interview to ANI on January 1, Modi had said that those accusing him on Rafale were actually weakening the Indian security forces. He also said that despite the allegations, he will expedite “the procurement processes” and “give primacy to the country’s security”.
Rahul emphasised that the questions on the deal centred on three pillars – process, pricing and paisa. On the change in demand for aircraft from 126 (under UPA) to 36 (under NDA), Rahul asked the government whether it was unilaterally changed by the government or the IAF had something to do with it.
Speaking on the preference to Reliance, Rahul stated, “HAL is manufacturing aircrafts for last 70 years. It has tremendous record and is a bedrock of technology. On the other hand, Anil Ambani has a Rs 45,000 crore debt and opens the company 10 days before the contract.”
Rahul also asked the Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to play a controversial audio recording in the Lok Sabha. The recording apparently quotes Goa CM Manohar Parrikar (who was Defence Minister when the Rafale deal was signed) saying that files related to the Rafale deal were in his bedroom, so no one could remove him.
The Speaker denied permission, and Arun Jaitley called Rahul a ‘liar’ presenting a ‘fabricated tape recording’. Rahul did not play the tape, but reiterated his demand for a JPC, insisting that the SC never said that a JPC should not be set up.
Arun Jaitley countered Rahul’s demand and stated, “Congress is raising the Rafale issue for the second time. But the nation is disappointed with Rahul Gandhi’s view… SC verdict is treated as the final word, Rahul Gandhi has undermined the apex court judgment.”
He spoke on the demand for a JPC, “It is a tragedy for the country that the Grand Old Party is headed today by a gentleman who doesn’t have an understanding what a combat aircraft is… If the Supreme Court is satisfied, why would a joint parliamentary committee, which is divided on party lines, review it?” Jaitley also counter-questioned the Congress on the Agusta Westland and Bofors deals, after which some Congress members started flying paper planes, apparently taunting him for changing the topic.
However, other opposition parties also joined the chorus against the government. TMC MP Saugata Roy asked why the Defence Minister was not speaking and why the BJP had borrowed an MP from the Rajya Sabha (referring to Mr Arun Jaitley). He also asked why the PM was not answering, why the requirement of jets had changed and why Parrikar was shifted from the Defence Ministry.
BJD MP Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo commented, “When the HAL can manufacture Su30 Jets, why can’t it manufacture Rafale?” Even Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant criticised the government for giving the contract to a firm with no experience.
Finally, the Lok Sabha was adjourned due to heated protests, and the Speaker suspended many MPs for five sittings.